Guest post by Zoe Weil, co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education
When asked about their deepest hopes for their children, most parents don’t mention elite colleges, the best outfits, high SAT scores, athletic prowess, or future prom queens. Above all, most parents want their children to be happy and kind. They want them to have abiding values that will carry them through life and enable them to be good, hard-working, successful people whom others like and respect. They want them to make healthy and wise choices and put their talents and skills into practice in meaningful ways. In a word, they want their children to be humane, embodying the best qualities of human beings.
Raising a humane child is challenging in today’s world. Parents are often raising their children in opposition to cultural norms. While today’s society promotes materialism, junk food, myopia, and endless competition, many parents want their children to experience wonder, to be healthy and wise, and to learn to collaborate. These parents are often trying to inculcate awe, compassion, gratitude and respect for self and others (including the natural world and other species), while their culture is busy producing ever more entitled,“screen-addicted” teenagers. It’s not an easy task to raise children even within a culture that supports one’s values, but it’s much harder when one’s deepest values are contradicted daily, in school, through the media, and within mainstream culture.
What’s a parent to do?
By utilizing the tools of the humane educator, parents can challenge cultural norms and raise their children to embrace those values their family holds dear. Humane educators rely on four key elements to teach children how they can be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers and to put their deepest values into practice in concrete, practical ways. They are:
• To provide accurate information (in age appropriate ways) about the challenges of our time
• To foster the 3 Cs of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking
• To instill the 3 Rs of reverence, respect, and responsibility
• To offer positive choices and the tools for problem-solving
Finally, humane educators seek to model their message for their students by cultivating the 3 Is of inquiry, introspection, and integrity so that they, themselves, are lifelong learners who seek out knowledge that will allow them to live more humanely, who self reflect to understand where the confluence of their new knowledge and their actions lies, and who live with integrity to the best of their ability putting their values into action.
Parents can do this, too. By choosing humane products and foods, going outside in nature instead of to the mall, living consciously and conscientiously, they will model their own message of humane living. The next step is becoming their children’s first humane educator and teaching them about the challenges of our time. While it’s very important that parents don’t expose their young children to atrocities, by nurturing their reverence for others, human and nonhuman as well as the natural world, and by slowly introducing information in age appropriate ways, fostering their critical and creative thinking about that information, and offering them opportunities to make a difference, parents can raise their children to be humane.
For those parents interested in learning more about how to do this, I invite you to read my book, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and to register for the Institute for Humane Education’s online course for parents, “Raising a Humane Child.”
Editor's Note: If you are an educator, please sign up for Teaching for a Positive Future - a 6-week online course for only $135 to learn skills, tools and insight for teaching students critical and creative thinking about social justice, environmental ethics and animal protection. It's money well spent.
I've read both, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life by Zoe Weil and they are both excellent books. They will inspire you to change your way of thinking, and you'll look at many things including current systems, industries, products and habits/traditions in a new light. I highly recommend these books for individuals, parents and educators who want to make the world a better place for all.
You can follow the Institute for Humane Education's blog: Humane Connection.
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers online graduate programs in humane education through an affiliation with Valparaiso University, online professional development courses, Summer Institutes for educators, and free, downloadable activities and lesson plans at its awarding winning resource center on its website: www.HumaneEducation.org. Zoe is the author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education; Nautilus Silver Medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind:Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, and Moonbeam Gold Medal winner for juvenile fiction, Claude and Medea, which follows the adventures of 12-year-olds in New York City who are inspired by an eccentric teacher to right wrongs where they find them. She has given an acclaimed TEDx talk, “The World Becomes What You Teach” and blogs at www.zoeweil.com. Zoe holds master’s degrees from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow her on Twitter at ZoeWeil and become her friend on Facebook.